Vitamin D and Opioid Addiction
Vitamin D has been shown to regulate opioid peptide gene expression, and vitamin D deficiency has been correlated with an increased risk for substance abuse and addiction. Recent studies suggest that vitamin D may be beneficial in reducing the painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings often associated with opioid addiction.
It also appears that vitamin D can act as a modulating vitamin for the effects of opioids or opioid painkillers, which are drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Vitamin D is, in fact, “a neuroactive steroid hormone” that can play an important role in the treatment of opioid addiction.
What is Vitamin D & What Does it Do For The Body?
Vitamin D belongs to the family of fat-soluble vitamins, which are vitamins that can be dissolved in fat or oil. Vitamin D has many important functions in the body, including promoting bone health and helping regulate cell growth and blood pressure. It helps keep your metabolism running smoothly while also supporting the immune system.
What is Opioid Addiction?
Opioid addiction is defined as an addiction to an opioid drug. Opioids are drugs derived from opium or synthetic chemicals that act similarly to morphine, which is one of the oldest painkillers known to man. Today’s prescription opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), fentanyl, meperidine, oxymorphone, and tapentadol.
Since the 1990s, opioid addiction has skyrocketed in the United States due to the increased non-medical use of prescription opioids. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, with an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Opioid drugs are effective at reducing pain, but they can have serious side effects, especially when misused. Misuse means taking the medication in a different way or for a different reason than prescribed by your doctor. The HHS reports that
How Can Vitamin D Help to Treat Opioid Addiction?
It appears that vitamin D supplementation may help to reduce pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms, while also helping to prevent relapse in recovering addicts. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is correlated with both an increase in pain conditions and a higher risk for substance abuse including an addiction to opioids.
One study found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the incidence of acute sickle cell pain crises in children with sickle cell disease, while another study found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the need for opioid pain medications. Some research has even suggested that vitamin D supplementation could reduce opioid cravings in recovering addicts.
What Are Some of The Best Ways to Get Vitamin D?
The best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that “10–15 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least two times a week to the face, arms, legs or back without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis” in patients diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency.
However, during the winter months, those living in northern latitudes or those with dark skin tone who sunburn easily may not be able to produce sufficient levels of vitamin D from sunlight. In such cases, foods like fatty fish can provide a boost of Vitamin D as well as vitamin D supplements.
What Are Some of The Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Some of the symptoms of severe vitamin D deficiency can include fatigue, depression, aches and pains throughout the body including muscles and joints, poor sleep quality, weight gain due to a slowed metabolism, frequent infections such as colds and flu, headache, and migraines, difficulty focusing or concentrating and poor memory.
If you think that you are deficient in vitamin D, you can ask your doctor about getting a simple 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test. Vitamin deficiency increases addictive behavior consistent with opioid addiction. Prolonged vitamin D deficiency may lead to opioid-seeking behaviors & permanent opioid dependence.
What Are The Optimum Vitamin D levels?
The Vitamin D Council reports that the ideal range for vitamin D levels is between 50-80 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter).
There are 40 different countries where opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions. For example, in Russia, up to 20 percent of the population is addicted to opioids according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
While opioid addiction is certainly not unique to Russia, the country has taken drastic measures to help addicts overcome their dependence on painkillers.
Benefits of Taking Vitamin D
One of the biggest benefits of taking vitamin D supplements is that they boost your motivation to stay clean from opioids and opioid use disorder. Perhaps this is because Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depressive symptoms and a higher incidence of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, social phobia, or agoraphobia.
In fact, bipolar depression, which is marked by periods of depression alternating with episodes of elevated mood or irritability, can be successfully treated with vitamin D supplementation.
Studies have shown that even the depressive symptoms associated with the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be effectively treated with Vitamin D supplementation.
Vitamin D has also been found to reduce the withdrawal symptoms experienced when a recovering addict is deprived of their opioid fix.
The Main Link Between Vitamin D & Opioid Addiction
New evidence suggests that Vitamin D deficiency may play a role in opioid addiction by altering the reward system of the brain, which is responsible for how pleasurable activities like taking drugs or eating our favorite foods can become addictive.
A study by researchers at Indiana University found that normal laboratory mice with low vitamin D levels had lower levels of endorphins, this is a brain chemical that is released when we do pleasurable activities such as eating, exercising, socializing, and having sex. Endorphins release dopamine in the brain’s reward center which reinforces pleasurable behavior.
In this study, vitamin D deficient mice display behavior consistent with signs of opioid addiction. In other words, the rodents were more likely to seek out drugs like amphetamine and morphine because those substances caused the release of endorphins in their brains.
Once treated with supplemental doses of vitamin D, these normal mice had their opioid responses reversed & showed a reduced desire to take opioids as demonstrated by their decreased consumption of heroin and morphine.
Emmaus Medical & Recovery provides therapy and consultation for people addicted to substance abuse and alcoholism. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you quit drugs for good.